PEOPLE

Dot-com dog locks jaws with writer for Conan

Now we know what happens to the missing socks: They mutate into celebrity spokespuppets and start suing each other.

Pets.com claims its Sock Puppet has been defamed by “Triumph the Insult Comic Dog,” a recurring guest on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” who always ends his cigar-waggling rants with “that I can poop on!”

The on-line pet supply store, which filed its lawsuit last week in San Francisco, used fighting words, calling “Triumph is a rubber dog that regularly uses vulgarity, insults both the humans and other dogs around him and often conducts physical attacks of a sexual nature on female dogs.” The defamation at paw, the suit claims, is that O’Brien’s pup has accused the Sock Puppet of being “a rip-off of Triumph.” These claims have allegedly come on shows like “Inside Edition” and “The Daily Show.” Triumph debuted on “Late Night” Feb. 13, 1997, while Sock Puppet premiered August 1999. Apparently Pets.com didn’t like “Late Night” writer/Triumph creator Robert Smigel playing footsie hard-core, calling the Sock Puppet a “watered-down, less funny, corporatized version of Triumph.” The on-line company’s patience unraveled when Smigel threatened Pets.com with a trademark infringement suit in a letter.

Pets.com chief executive Julie Wainright said the correspondence surprised the firm, and after the public hounding, “we felt forced to take the normal steps to obtain a ruling from the court that protects our intellectual property.”

The lawsuit names only Smigel and not “Late Night” or its network, NBC. Sock Puppet, though, has already been accused of being a corporate footlicker after making “guest appearances” on Disney-owned TV shows, and viewers weren’t told that Disney has a 5 percent stake in Pets.com.

TAKE A GIGGLE AND CALL ME IN THE MORNING: A half-dozen celebrity children and grandchildren, along with “I Love Lucy” writers, visited Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA Tuesday, where a study on laughter begins next month. The project, titled Rx Laughter, which received a $75,000 grant boost from Comedy Central, will take five years to study the cardiac and immune system responses of children exposed to comedy. The first step will be having robust elementary schoolchildren watch the old black-and-white days of slapstick humor and see if they’ll still laugh. Eight months later, the researchers will show the videos that made it to sick children.

Chris Costello, daughter of Lou Costello (the chunky one who couldn’t figure out Who was on first), thinks these post Pauly Shore-era kids will respond to the old-timers. “It’s timeless. It’s universal,” says the Burbank resident, who gets mail from young viewers who think her father is still alive. The researchers probably won’t include Comedy Central offerings, like “Kids in the Hall” and “South Park,” in any laboratory settings. “Modern-day comedy, you really have to be careful. A lot of it is good but a lot of it is off-color,” Costello said.

FORGET THE SCREEN TEST, TAKE THE DRIVING TEST: Now Gwyneth Paltrow is on the DMV’s most wanted list. Two people filed a Superior Court lawsuit Monday against the actress for allegedly crashing her rental car into their vehicle on La Cienega Boulevard in West Hollywood last April. The plaintiffs seek unspecified damages for medical expenses and car repair costs, attorney James Earle said. Paltrow’s publicist and attorney did not immediately return calls Tuesday seeking comment.

DIRTY DANCING IN GREASE: According to a British Web site, Britney Spears reportedly wants to produce and star in a remake of that definitive ’80s classic, “Dirty Dancing.” The 18-year-old wants to reprise the watermelon-carrying Frances “Baby” Houseman, originally played by Jennifer Grey, who looked about 14 compared to her co-star Patrick Swayze. The Sunday Times reported earlier this month that the singer also wanted to be in the third installment of “Grease,” to answer all the unanswered questions from the first two. What we want to know is, is Christina Aguilera somehow orchestrating this sabotage of Spears’ career, or is it the young pop pup doing it all by her lonesome?

Milestones

Indicted: Dana C. Giacchetto. The financial adviser was formally charged Tuesday for misappropriating $9 million from clients such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Stiller and Courtney Cox. If convicted, Giacchetto faces a maximum 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $18 million on a securities fraud count.

Birthdays: Actor Jack Klugman (78), civil rights activist Coretta Scott King (73), actress Anouk Aimee (68), announcer Casey Kasem (68), broadcast journalist Phil Jones (63), actress Judy Carne (61), opera singer Judith Blegen (59), rhythm-and-blues singer Cuba Gooding (56), singer Ann Peebles (53), rock singer Kate Pierson of The B-52’s (52), rhythm-and-blues singer Herbie Murrell of The Stylistics (51), actor Douglas Sheehan (51), rock musician Ace Frehley of KISS (49), pop singer Sheena Easton (41), actor James Le Gros (38), rock musician Rob Squires of Big Head Todd & the Monsters (35), singer Mica Paris (31), rock singer-musician Travis Meeks of Days of the New (21).

Today’s People Column was compiled by Vera H-C Chan from staff and wire reports. Comments? Write to us c/o the Times, P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596-8099. Or call 925-943-8262, fax 925-943-8362, or e-mail spin@cctimes.com.

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